Sunday, December 17, 2017

December 18: Advent, Day 16

Today we are arriving at a crossroads in our Advent blog, as we turn our attention to the scriptures concerning God’s future work in our world. Our goal here has three key parts:

We need to identify what hopes still await fulfillment;
What the scriptures say regarding those hopes;
How we should hope based on previous experiences (like Christmas).

Let's begin by remembering the hopes that Israel held onto prior to the first Christmas. Their was to be a people who received God’s blessing, and blessed others, because of their special relationship with God (this is the covenant with Abraham). Their second hope was to be a people liberated to serve God with righteousness and justice, and point the nations of the world back to God (this is the covenant with Moses). Finally, they hoped to have a king, anointed by God, to reign over them and safeguard their justice and peace (this was the covenant with David). All of these hopes were brought together in the visions of the prophets that we saw, where the whole world was set right and at peace with each other and God, due to God’s restoration of his people.

Now, I have argued repeatedly on this blog that Christmas (the incarnation) was God’s first dramatic work to fulfill these hopes. God did not forget these hopes or change the plan! He began to answer these hopes definitively that first Christmas. But obviously, not everything was fulfilled. The world of Jesus’ day was full of evil, violence and injustice, and of course we know he wound up being crucified, which hardly appeared to be a fulfilling of hopes at the time. And our world doesn’t look too much different than his. So then, here’s our question: what hopes have been fulfilled, and what hopes are we still waiting on? Let’s take them in reverse order:

Hope #3: A King to Shepherd God’s People
This hope was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus, who was the Messiah of Israel. Moreover, this hope was made eternally secure with the resurrection of Jesus. However, Jesus’ reign on earth is still contested (hence the state of the world today). So while the King is named and enthroned in heaven, his rule is not yet established in power on earth. We are still waiting for the King to usher in justice and peace and righteousness over all the earth.

Hope #2: Liberated to Serve God
This hope was fulfilled in part by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In that process our ultimate oppressors, sin and death and satan, were defeated. If we give allegiance to Jesus then we can serve God free from their dominion, and we are gathered into a people called out to serve God together. Yet, the forces of darkness still hold power in the earth, and the consequences of their rule and our time under them means we still struggle against their pull. And, of course, we will also die. Our liberation to serve God to our full capacity, as we were intended to, awaits fulfillment at the resurrection.

Hope #1: A People and World Filled with Blessing
By now you should know where this is going! Through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have been brought into a new relationship with God. His grace has brought us into his family and we have received the blessing of his presence with us. BUT, of course, we still see plenty of places in ourselves and in our world where this blessing has not taken hold. These are places where God seems absent, and where loss, alienation and unrest are familiar places. Our lives and our world await the fulness of the blessing that God intends.

Now that we’ve identified what hopes have been fulfilled and which still remains we can move to our next tasks: exploring what scripture says about the final fulfillment of these hopes, and what faithfulness to these hopes looks like in light of what we’ve learned from the Christmas story… And we’ll start that adventure tomorrow!

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